Mahoning Paddle & Pedal Capitalizes on River’s Returning Beauty
STRUTHERS, Ohio – Vickie Davanzo and Dave Kuzma slide their kayaks into a peaceful stretch of the Mahoning River. Trees line the serene banks, and the quiet is broken only by birdsong.
It’s hard to imagine that this very spot, a few blocks north of Bridge Street, once stood in the shadow of a massive steel mill.
As co-owners of Mahoning Paddle & Pedal, which rents kayaks and bicycles, Kuzma and Davanzo are familiar with the scene.
“When you’re on the river, you wouldn’t even know you’re in Youngstown,” Kuzma said.
It’s a sensory benefit that is a selling point for the outfitters, who launched their business three years ago.
The pair took a big step forward this year by opening a storefront for their business. Previously, they existed solely online; customers would contact them by phone or email, and the co-owners would meet them with kayaks in tow.
Their location is in Castlo business park in downtown Struthers. They’re in the first building on the left, a large, brick industrial structure that formerly was a warehouse or foundry. They will soon put up signage to make their business easy to find.
Kuzma and Davanzo have always used the building for storage, but now it also houses their office and showroom.
“We felt that people need to come to a physical location,” Davanzo said.
The store has a selection of kayaks, canoes and bicycles available to rent. The owners typically meet customers at Lowellville’s river access. Customers will leave their cars there and then ride upriver with the owners to wherever they intend to enter the water – usually Struthers, Youngstown or Girard.
The Struthers launch area is a few miles upstream and is a popular starting point.
Mahoning Paddle & Pedal also rents bicycles, usually to riders who want to traverse the Stavich Bike Trail. The trail’s northern terminus is no more than a mile away, across the Bridge Street Bridge.
The Mahoning River dam at Struthers was removed last year, and the one at Lowellville was removed two years ago. A dam at downtown Youngstown has been partially deconstructed so that kayakers can pass without having to leave the water, Davanzo said.
The removals opened up the river to kayaking – and a whole new tourism industry.
What makes it unusual is that the river has largely reverted to its natural state but still lies in the midst of a heavily populated area.
“That might be the most unique part about kayaking down the Mahoning,” Davanzo said. “You don’t have to drive 50 miles out into the country.”
While the Struthers river access landing – about a half-mile from Mahoning Paddle & Pedal on Bob Cene Way – is a stone’s throw from factories, it is secluded.
“When you’re on the water, you appear to be completely in nature,” Davanzo said.
The crumbling remnants of mills and factories occasionally come into view, but the trip downstream to Lowellville is otherwise natural and scenic.
Kuzma and Davanzo started their business because they sensed it would fill a niche.
“So many people didn’t know that you could do this here,” Davanzo said of kayaking. Because Kuzma is a cyclist, they added bike rentals to their line.
Their business has increased each year, and the co-owners are pleased with their location in downtown Struthers.
“It’s a nice destination,” Davanzo said. “There are a couple of nice restaurants nearby,” and plans are in the works for apartments that could be rented for overnight stays. The apartments would be in a building on Bridge Street, next to Selah Restaurant.
Bob Cene Park, which hosts baseball games for traveling teams all summer, is another nearby attraction.
“Business is picking up,” Davanzo said. “More folks know we’re here. We got more out-of-towners last year than local people.”
Kuzma said kayaking and bicycling on a paved trail appeals to people “who want to experience the outdoors but aren’t diehard bikers or kayakers.”
During the rest of May, Mahoning Paddle & Pedal is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Monday, with the last kayak put in the water at 2 p.m.
From June through August, the business will be open seven days a week with the same hours, although some days will be by appointment only.
For information, go to mppohio.com or call 330 719 2305.
Pictured at top: Vickie Davanzo and Dave Kuzma at their kayak and bicycle rental business in Struthers.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.